Previous Exhibitions

March 2018 - Painted Words - new works by Naga Tsutsumi

 For the month of March 2018, ZIMMERMAN is featuring Painted Words - new paintings by Naga Tsutsumi.   


This month: Painted Words – new works by Naga Tsutsumi

This month ZIMMERMAN is delighted to feature Painted Words – a series of new works by Naga Tsutsumi in which the artist has combined images with words and phrases drawn from the Japanese language.

Artist commentary

“In early February I went to Auckland to see the Corsini Collection exhibition at Auckland Art Gallery.


The exhibited works were obviously secondary works from the Collection, but it was still a great opportunity to see real Renaissance paintings, especially Pontormo's study work, and Caravaggio's portrait.


My fascination with the paintings in the Corsini Collection was not to do with realism or anatomy, but was instead about the spontaneous brush strokes, still vivid colours, uncountable layers to create depth, the facial expressions on each figure that unsettle the viewer’s mind, and symbolic objects suggesting mysteries ... the paintings were so meaningful! 


In my own work, the idea or concept is of primary importance. But painted subjects – usually people - don't always clearly deliver the underlying idea. And while I sometimes use symbolic objects in my paintings, there is a risk of losing the desired simplicity of the final image. I want my paintings to reach the viewer’s mind, like Renaissance paintings do.


Rediscovering the power of words


Following a conversation with a local cartoonist, Brent Putze, I rediscovered the power of cartoons and comics – they convey what the artist desires to communicate with a combination of pictures and words.  Even direct dialogue can pose a dichotomy, or carry hidden messages between the lines, like in a poem. 


Reflecting on this inspired me to adopt words in my latest paintings.


I have used my native language, Japanese, to recall favourite old sayings, parts of poems or lyrics, words expressing my state of mind, or simply words I wanted to play with.


The dilemmas of using words in painting


Art work or graphic design?


Whenever I place words on a picture, it feels as if I’m designing a book cover. But I really like the paperback covers of old detective or horror novels: the perfect match of illustrations and titles with a certain typeface


Should I write, or paint, the words?


Writing words on a canvas, and painting words on a canvas, are different activities with different significance.


Initially I thought it would be rude to Kiwi audiences for me to show paintings using foreign words. So I selected the words I wished to use to deliver my message, then carefully examined the visual appeal of the shape of the letters.


While words written on a painting are usually meant to be read, painted words are objects to be looked at (like Jasper Johns alphabets or numbers) – reading is not the primary concern. In this series of paintings, the titles (while not direct translations) reflect the painted words; my hope is that messages are conveyed through the picture surface.


What if Japanese people see the work?


Many Japanese letters are pictographs, enabling viewers familiar with the language to instantly recognise what is being said without reading. I wonder if Japanese people, on viewing the paintings, will first look at the image, or the words? 

The words and phrases used in these paintings may be unusual for them to see outside Japan in this era.”


The exhibition of Naga Tsutsumi’s new works, “Painted Words”, runs from 1 to 29 March 2018.